MISS YOU ALREADY (12A, 112 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Honor Kneafsey, Ryan Lennon Baker, Tyson Ritter, Frances de la Tour. Director: Catherine Hardwicke.

Released: tomorrow

In 1988, Beaches starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey was the weepie du jour for a generation of women, hankering for a bittersweet portrait of steadfast sisterly solidarity.

Bottom lips still quiver, more than 25 years later, to the first notes of Midler's soaring ballad, Wind Beneath My Wings.

It's been a long wait but actress Morwenna Banks provides 21st century gal pals with their own sobathon as screenwriter of this occasionally foul-mouthed comedy drama set in the shadow of breast cancer.

There are tears aplenty in Catherine Hardwicke's film, predominantly shed by lead actresses Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore as they rage against a cruel disease that affects one in eight women in the UK.

There is humour and pathos too, not least in one beautifully handled scene between a wig maker (Frances de la Tour) and Collette's patient, as they select a new permanent barnet to replace the flowing locks lost to chemotherapy.

Pleasingly, Banks' script doesn't paint characters as saints or martyrs.

They are deeply flawed and behave badly, even at their lowest ebb, propelling a wrecking ball through a marriage when they should be fighting for survival.

Collette and Barrymore play best friends Milly and Jess, who met at school and have shared pivotal coming-of-age moments like losing their virginities.

Now 30-something and fabulous in radically different ways, the pals are braced for middle age.

Milly is a PR executive with a handsome husband Kit (Dominic Cooper) and two cherubic offspring, Scarlett (Honor Kneafsey) and Ben (Ryan Lennon Baker).

Bohemian earth mother Jess lives on a house boat with her oil rigger husband Jago (Paddy Considine) and cluckily prepares for the arrival of their first child.

Out of the blue, Milly is diagnosed with cancer and has to confront her mortality without her designer high heels.

As usual, Jess is by her side every painful step of the way, including a double mastectomy that forces Milly to question her femininity.

Timed for release ahead of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Miss You Already is galvanised by believable screen chemistry shared by the two leads.

Barrymore oozes adorability, while Collette has the meatier role and teases out the selfishness of her ambitious career woman, who has always prided herself on being able to arouse her husband.

Scenes of Milly pre and post-surgery are moving, leavened by flashes of humour as friends and family attempt to buoy Milly's spirits: "Come on Frankentits. Let's get you bandaged up!"

Plotting is a tad haphazard and a protracted 250-mile trek to the Yorkshire Moors creates unnecessary conflict.

Thankfully, screenwriter Banks redeems herself with a well-judged final act that tugs our heartstrings without feeling like we're being shamelessly manipulated into reaching for another tissue.

RATING: 7/10